East Tenn. pregnancy center rebounds after devastating fire with new building, services

East Tenn. pregnancy center rebounds after devastating fire with new building, servicesCatholic Charities East Tennessee Knoxville staff (Catholic Charities East Tennessee)

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” – Isaiah 61:3

From the ashes of a devastating fire a new building has risen in Knoxville, Tennessee, to welcome pregnancy help clients with services previously provided along with new offerings.

The main building housing Catholic Charities of Eastern Tennessee (CCETN) burned in a devastating fire in late November 2021. Officials designated the cause as arson. 

Catholic Charities East Tennessee

For the past 17 months, staff have served clients in a temporary location while a re-build began. Progress continues, and by summer, administrators expect to return to a new building at the former location with more security and new services.

“We're able to come back in our building, and the building inside is reconstructed and remodeled in a way that gives us space to expand services,” said Lisa Healy, CCETN executive director. “We're really excited about it – it’s going to be beautiful!”

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Building and growing

The Pregnancy Help Center (PHC) is one of several programs CCETN housed in the building that burned. However, the fire did not keep the organization from serving people, including those experiencing unplanned pregnancy. 

   Lisa Healy

“We have 11 programs here, and the Pregnancy Help Center is one,” Healy said. “But, in this time of being out of our regular rhythm and in these temporary offices, we haven't really missed a beat in any of our programs. including pregnancy.”

Virtual Earn While You Learn classes were held, women received material needs, such as diapers and car seats, and a celebration of having served 2,000 families took place.

CCETN experienced other milestones, including opening a new pregnancy center in a small, rural Tennessee community and starting an adoption program. Adding ultrasound and pregnancy testing by a medical professional is on the docket for the summer re-opening.

“Adding ultrasound gives us that next level of providing information to women and families so they can see their pregnancy,” Healy said. “We just think it's so impactful to have that ability at Catholic Charities, to do that which just adds to everything we've been doing for the last 20 years. It gives us that next level of service for life.”

“It's been something that I've been wanting to do for 21 years, and now it's finally coming to reality,” said Sandi Davidson, pregnancy services program leader. “I know how important ultrasound is – I know that it changes lives, and it saves babies.”

The reconstructed building is “totally reconfigured,” she added, to accommodate the medical wing and the adoption services program as well as providing rooms for classes, lactation services, meetings, and offices.

The community of Knoxville and many organizations rallied around CCETN after the fire and during the rebuild. 

   Sandy Davidson

“All the organizations and people that reached out to us was pretty much overwhelming, and we are just very, very grateful,” said Davidson, who was honored last year for 20 years of service.

A medical director is already on board, and Davidson is in the process of hiring a nurse manager for the center. 

Other ideas for moving forward include having a mobile unit to cover outlying areas and adding a maternity home.

“But that’s a long way down the road,” Davidson said.

Meeting community needs

Vision and meeting needs are strong abilities of the staff and organization. Examples include starting the adoption program and serving different cultures, such as African and Hispanic.

Ivett Lambert serves as client specialist for Hispanic women. The program has grown since she started about two years ago. 

   Ivett Lambert

“When I first came, I had eight clients; now I have 40,” she said.

Most of the women she meets with know that they are pregnant, and they want to participate in the Earn While You Learn program. A special class on nutrition and diabetes was created for them.

“Diabetes is very high in the Hispanic community, and it's one of our special classes that we have,” Lambert said. “Our culture likes to eat lots of rice and potatoes.”

Adding ultrasound would also help her clients.

“Sometimes moms don't have medical care for months while they’re pregnant, and they want to know what's going on with the baby,” she said. “I’m very excited to see the growth [with ultrasound].”

Chasity Galyson, PHC program coordinator, also expressed excitement for the addition of ultrasound, and said she expects an increase in women served.

 “I think we will see a significant increase in numbers [of clients],” she said, “one because of the location – we’re going back to being right across the street from the health department and along the bus line, so it’s very convenient. Then add the pregnancy testing and ultrasound.” 

“We’ve had phone calls from people hearing about what’s coming,” said Galyson. “So, they’re already trying to schedule ultrasounds, and I have to tell them, ‘No, not yet.’ So, it’s definitely going to bump things up quite a bit.”

In addition to serving clients, Galyson also oversees volunteers, including nursing students from a local university. In the future, some of those interns may help in the center’s medical area.

“I think it’s valuable for those students,” she said, “because, even though we’re not medical yet, there's a lot of support with just getting used to working with people one-on-one.” 

“This gives them some very valid and relevant experience in working with people,” said Galyson.

In anticipation of the re-opening, Galyson is preparing a new scheduling option.

“I'm in the process of adding a 24/7 text option to our website,” she said. “I think the timing is perfect with ultrasound and the pregnancy testing resuming.”

“A lot of moms get out of school, get off work, and it's evening and we’re closed,’ added Galyson. “This offers an opportunity for them to still make contact even if it's two o'clock in the morning. We have people on staff that can answer during business hours, and we can also be on call.”

CCETN remodel















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Catholic Charities of Eastern Tennessee Pregnancy Help Center is rebounding from a devastating fire with a new building and new services

Change of seasons

With the new seasons of spring and summer arriving, the bleak winter of the arson has past, and bright changes are taking place for CCETN and the PHC. 

“It's really a shame the fire happened,” Healy said. “But you know the blessing is we're able to rebuild, and we're able to rebuild better than we were before.” 

“There's just a really good thing going on here,” Galyson said. “A lot of really good people have come together to serve the most vulnerable in our community. It’s really exciting to be able to add the programs that we're adding.”

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